The Belk Dining Hall courtyard: a place where Can Art is held annually, students gather in preparation for Stunt, classes gather before hall raids and pancakes are served on the patio. The courtyard is a foundational point on campus that is often the center of Meredith events and student life. It seems only fitting that we graduate from the same place that holds our dearest memories from our first Cornhuskin’ to our last Stunt.
When the announcement that commencement would be held once again in the courtyard behind Johnson Hall, I was elated. I have the opportunity to close out my college career right behind Johnson Hall, where we had the Honor Code ceremony and started our time at Meredith. This location is the perfect close for the Class of 2023, who spent two years unable to attend classes on campus. The last thing I would want as a senior is to spend my graduation at another institution’s campus like Dorton Arena or Reynolds Coliseum. I already spent two of my four years learning from home, and I would like to close this chapter of my life by graduating from where I am getting my degree from.
Is the courtyard the most accessible place? Of course not. It is a grass field with uneven brick sidewalks. However, I argue it is more accessible than graduating from Dorton or Reynolds. I have attended classes at NC State during my time here at Meredith, and I recall the fifteen to twenty minute walks to class from my car. Hosting graduation at Meredith allows for closer and more accessible parking. Additionally, while we might have to sit in the humidity or potential heat, it is significantly better than walking several blocks in the heat to show up to graduation with ruined makeup, aching feet, sweat stained gowns and flattened hair. In contrast, Belk Dining Hall provides water bottles for everyone at commencement should the heat of 8 a.m. in North Carolina be suffocating.
I have worked as a Commencement Marshall for Meredith graduations the past two years, which were both held in the courtyard. I worked directly with families who needed accessible seating. They were able to park close to the ceremony and access the reserved seating organized by Events and Disability Services. Reserved seating for accessibility needs is found in the first couple of rows of guest seating. Events and Disability Services work directly with students and family members to make sure all accommodations are met. Therefore, while the venue itself is not the best for accessibility needs, Events and Disability Services remain extremely accommodating and helpful to all those who need it.
Since the venue is more informal than a large auditorium, graduates can sit with their fellow graduating friends instead of in alphabetical order. Additionally, guests are able to move out of their seats to get the perfect picture of their graduate walking, bring balloons or signs and cheer on their student. I personally am excited to show my family members my campus after graduating without having to drive back to Meredith.
Events does a fantastic job decorating the venue to make it more attractive, but who hasn’t taken pictures with Meredith’s brick walls as a backdrop? Plus, the fountain and other locations on campus are right there for photos. Not everyone can afford to hire a professional photographer for graduation photos or get everyone to attend a photoshoot. Having graduation on campus allows students to take photos with family and friends on campus in their graduation regalia without needing to drive back to campus or find another day to get their group together for photos.
A colleague of mine is a Meredith alumnae and graduated from Reynolds. She stated that they were forced to have their commencement ceremony at 8 p.m. because NC State was still hosting their own graduation ceremonies, and Meredith graduates had to wait until NC State was finished for the day. I would not want to graduate so late at night and have to hold off celebrations or have to celebrate early. She also explained that they still only got seven tickets for graduation, implying that changing venues would not increase the number of guest tickets significantly. As a Marshal, I found that graduates who signed up for the earlier graduation time were able to get extra tickets because less students signed up to graduate at that time. I heard that one student got more than 10 tickets last year. There were also reports of guests sneaking into the ceremony since the venue is informal. If the number of tickets is the problem, talk to friends who may have extra or sign up for the earlier time., there are options.
Moreover, rain plans are never meant to be ideal, they are in place as a backup. Events did a great job of informing graduates how the rain plans would work. They included the assigned location and a map of how to get there on the back of each ticket. “Disastrous”? I don’t think so. It was just inconvenient for people. But that is what rain is—inconvenient. Whether or not students informed their guests of the rain plan was not up to Events. They did everything they could to get the word out to students.
Nonetheless, graduates and guests are still separated at a traditional ceremony without rain, as they sit in separate designated sections. The rain plan was set up so that guests could still watch their students graduate through a livestream that was already running. This allows loved ones to watch over the internet from anywhere and in case it rained they could still watch instead of having to postpone or stop the ceremony. Again, rain plans are not ideal, but I would not say it was “disastrous.”
Finally, I am confident that for many of the senior class, they are not the only people in their family graduating this spring or summer. Personally, my brother is graduating from UNCW on the very afternoon of Meredith’s commencement ceremony. Having our graduation on campus allows students to have the option between two different times for graduation. I know I will be at the earlier ceremony so that my family hopefully will be able to race down to Wilmington to watch my brother graduate that afternoon.
If Meredith was to move to Dorton or Reynolds and have one ceremony, my loved ones would have to pick between which ceremony to attend. I know I cannot be the only family with this issue, but keeping graduation the way it has been for the past couple of years gives my family the best opportunity to support both kids. Those are my family’s needs.